‘You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God?’
— James 4:4
In a most insightful blog in The Masculinist,1 author Aaron Renn takes up the issue of the American evangelical church and why we lack powerful impact in our culture. He writes of positive world Christianity, neutral world Christianity, and negative world Christianity. In the positive world of American Christianity, prior to 1994, the church was seen in a relatively positive light. To be a Christian then was to enhance one’s career or standing in the community. Christians were largely respected. To join an evangelical church or prominently to display a Bible on one’s desk was good for business.
The approach of church ministry then was to address the issues of the day in the church and world in a direct , sometimes highly combatative manner. It was during these years that the seeker sensitive approach to ministry (think Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Church) was embraced by so many, largely because there was a basic friendliness by the world toward Christianity.
Some of the major players in the days of the positive view of the church were Jerry Falwell and James Dobson. Both men spoke directly, boldly, and passionately about the moral and political issues of their day. When Colorado Senator, Gary Hart, running for the Democratic nomination for President in 1988, was reported by the Miami Herald of cavorting with a young woman named Donna Rice on a yacht, the outcry was so great that Hart was forced to drop out of the race.
From 1994 to 2014, however, the American evangelical church was viewed in a neutral light. To be a Christian was more of a neutral attribute. It may not help your career but it certainly wouldn’t hurt it either. The neutral world of Christianity gave rise to urban church types, what we might call hipsters. They said that they were apolitical but most leaned left in their political viewpoint. These pastors and churches sought to avoid highlighting any social or political issue which would bring Christianity into conflict with the world Consequently most of these pastors had no trouble championing opposition to racism and bigotry or sex trafficking, but were reluctant to speak on the horrors of abortion. Renn observes that Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, Manhattan, perfectly fits this description.
From 2014 to the present, however, a new view of the church has arisen. We now find ourselves in a negative view of Christianity. Being a Christian today, especially in larger, more hip cities, is usually a huge social negative. Try expressing your opposition to same sex unions in the board room and see where that takes you. While being a Christian in the positive church era was an enhancement of one’s career; and while being a Christian in a neutral view of the church may not help someone, it certainly would not hurt him either; we now have the negative view of the church where people openly and violently reject Biblical views on marriage, child rearing, business, law, economics, and politics.
To summarize — if the positive church world celebrated traditional norms on marriage, family, church, and government; and the neutral church tolerated these Biblical norms; now the negative church world repudiates them. We have moved from celebration to toleration to repudiation. And those church leaders who were loved by the neutral view of Christianity are now facing repudiation by those who embrace the negative view of Christianity. Tim Keller, for example, was recently uninvited from giving lectures at Princeton Theological Seminary because he embraces traditional marriage between one man and one woman.
Well, with these things in mind, what shall we do to reach our western world where so many are violently, militantly opposed to Christianity? It seems that so many are like sharks in the water which smell blood. They are in a feeding frenzy.
To retreat, as though we are in exile, is not the answer. Our model is always Jesus and the apostles. Though living and proclaiming the truth in the days of both meant that those loving righteousness were in a severe minority, Jesus and Paul never retreated. They constantly moved forward preaching the kingdom of God. It does not mean exchanging evangelism and discipleship for political action on the right. To engage in political process is our right and political ction on the right. To engage in the political process is our right and duty and we ought to follow Biblical norms when doing so, but these efforts must never supersede preaching the gospel of grace to all, regardless of their political, moral, or spiritual positions on anything. But it also does not mean accommodation with the left on issues like economics, government, same sex unions, abortion, or transgenderism. The more ‘progressive’ pastors continue to act like they still live in the neutral world of Christianity, then the more they will move to the left, eventually falling into theological apostasy.
Well then, what is the answer? We must double down on decay. We must be bold, intentional, fearless, considering friendship with the world as hostility towards God. We are not to sccumb to the harlotry of desiring the praise of men. Paul gloried in the cross of Christ. The world was crucified to him. He willingly embraced his stature before men — a slave, a spectacle, a fool, the scum of the earth and the dregs of all things. Give up the debilitating Siren song — the smile of man toward what we say or do.
More than ever, we must pray, living out the practical implications of Calvinism — that no one understands, no one seeks for God, none are righteous; and unless God by His sheer mercy and grace moves on people to convict them and regenerate them, then there is no hope at all of societal change orimpact. We need open air preaching more than ever. Open air preachers need to double down. We need more, not less of them. We need people moving out of their comfort zones, from behind the battle lines of our churches and coffee shops, and take to the streets where lost people live, work, play, and die. We need real men who are steadfast, immovable, who are always aboutnding in the work of the Lord. We need evangelists and preachers of every kind who are willing to be fools for Jesus’ sake, who are willing to suffer ridicule, rejection, and accusation in order to reach out to those who are hopelessly lost without Jesus, who are living without God in this world , and who, unless God intervenes in sheer merc, have only the prospect of a fathomless, shoreless, graceless eternity in the lake of fire, which is the second death.
1; Cited by Rod Dreher in The American Conservative “Evangelicalism’s Lost World”, October 21, 2017